The world's population could skyrocket to 10.9 billion people by 2050 if women do not gain better access to education and health care, a United Nations report said on Wednesday.
Women must receive equal status with men, adequate reproductive health and the right to plan the size of their families if the planet is to rein in a population already expected to grow by 50 percent over the next half century, the UN Population Fund said.
All of the projected growth -- from a current 6.1 billion to 9.3 billion -- will take place in developing countries, intensifying their battle against poverty and straining the environment worldwide. Increasing population and consumption will continue to alter the planet on an "unprecedented scale," degrading soil, polluting air and water, melting ice caps and destroying natural habits, the "State of the World Population 2001" report said.
The world's 49 least-developed countries -- already the most severely challenged by soil and water degradation and food shortages -- will nearly triple in size, from 668 million to 1.86 billion. As incomes rise in these countries, consumption will grow, placing yet more strain on the earth's resources, the report said.
To feed the nearly 8 billion people expected by 2025 and improve their diets, the world will have to double food production and improve distribution -- without relying on specialized fertilizers and pesticides, which would further disturb the ecological balance.
"More people are using more resources with more intensity than at any point in human history," said the report.
"Population growth, increasing affluence -- with rising consumption, pollution and waste -- and persistent poverty ... are putting increasing pressure on the environment," the report said.
The UN Population Fund, launched in 1969, helps developing countries find solutions to their population problems. It has three main program areas: reproductive health, including family planning and sexual health; population and development strategies; and advocacy.
(China Daily November 7, 2001)